(Source: NYTimes.com. Site includes video clip from show.)
Still Married, With Children, but in Russian
MOSCOW, Sept. 9 — Turn on the sitcom that is the hottest television show in Russia, and it all seems so familiar. Moored to his living room couch is a shoe salesman who is more interested in watching sports than conjugal relations. His wife has shocking hair and an even more shocking mouth. A couple of ne’er-do-well teenagers round out this bawdy, bickering bunch.
VideoMore Video » In fact, the show is an authorized copy of the American sitcom “Married With Children,” with a Russian cast and dialogue but scripts that hew closely to those of the original. This knockoff is such a sensation, especially among younger viewers, that its actors have become household names, and advertisements for its new season are plastered around Moscow.
A drumbeat of anti-Americanism may be coming from the Kremlin these days, but across Russia people are embracing that quintessentially American genre, the television sitcom, not to mention one of its brassiest examples. And curiously enough, it is the Russian government that has effectively brought “Married With Children” to this land, which somehow made it through the latter half of the 20th century without the benefit of the laugh track.
The show’s success says something not only about changing tastes here but also about Russia’s standing. Sitcoms are typically grounded in middle-class life and poke fun at it. The popularity of Russian versions of “Married With Children” and other adaptations of American sitcoms suggests that Russia has gained enough stability and wealth in recent years that these jokes resonate with viewers.
“ ‘Married With Children,’ with its satire on the American middle class, fits the style of our channel well,” said Dmitri Troitsky, a senior executive at the Russian channel TNT, a Gazprom-owned network whose programming bent is roughly similar to that of the Fox network in the United States. “It seemed interesting and topical for us to do a parody on the Russian middle class.”
These days, American visitors in Russia could be forgiven for thinking they had stumbled upon some bizarre realm of reruns. Adaptations of two other shows, “Who’s the Boss?” and “The Nanny,” are also popular here.
All three programs are distributed by Sony Pictures Television International, which has created versions of them and other American programs around the world, often in partnership with local producers. “The Nanny,” which was first broadcast here in 2004, was such a hit that after running out of episodes to copy, some of the show’s original American writers were commissioned to create 25 more episodes, said Ron Sato, a Sony spokesman.
“Married With Children,” which ran from 1987 to 1997 in the United States, has been renamed “Schastlivy Vmeste,” or “Happy Together.” Its setting has been moved from the Chicago area to Russia’s heartland metropolis of Yekaterinburg. The sniping couple, Al and Peg Bundy, have become Gena and Dasha Bukin.
The thrust is the same: sending up family life as outrageously — or as vulgarly, depending upon your point of view — as possible.
A typical bit: In the living room, Gena suddenly tells Dasha to take off her clothes. Dasha is elated that Gena finally wants to have sex, and then Gena says, “No, Dasha, I’m simply dying of hunger, and hope that that will take away my appetite.”
Natalya Bulgakova, a spokeswoman for TNT, said the show, which had its debut last year, is now the most popular scripted series among Russians ages 18 to 30. (Older Russians typically roll their eyes at mention of “Schastlivy Vmeste,” as if they briefly wonder whether life under Communism was not so bad after all.)